It’s surprising: for a band whose roots are embedded in a region north of the border, The Twilight Sad sure do boast an impressive set of ties with Brighton. Perched on the edge of The Freebutt’s stage just minutes before the venue opens its doors to the public, vocalist James Graham first breezes through some sort of confession about the alcohol-fuelled nights they’ve spent here (most of which, he assures me, have ended spectacularly on the beach). Second, he insists Brighton is a city he, personally at least, favours over England’s capital. But most significant, of course, is the small matter of Fat Cat Records; the label which, as Graham himself recalls, impressively snapped the four-piece up after flying into Glasgow to witness their fourth gig.
Nevertheless, it’s almost impossible to forget that James Graham and pals remain a Scottish band through and through. Hailing from Kilsyth, a small town on the outskirts of Glasgow, The Twilight Sad are another successful fixture in the city’s blinding music, and it’s a scene from which they draw inspiration themselves. “I like a lot of bands on the [Glasgow based] Chemikal Underground label,” Graham muses, stopping for a moment to name check his favourites; “Arab Strap, Mogwai, The Delgados…”
Of course, the band’s influences aren’t limited to their Glaswegian counterparts; and it doesn’t take much to tease James Graham’s true feelings for Morrissey and The Smiths out. He’s a fan, naturally – as you might expect from the frontman of a band who covered Half A Person on compilation Killed My Parents and Hit the Road last year – though it’s not as though the same can be said for everyone else. “Mark [Devine, drummer] doesn’t like him, so we always bicker about it,” Graham explains, a small grin spreading across his face. “Personally, I think anyone who doesn’t appreciate Morrissey is a dickhead.”
It’s slightly venomous of Graham, but it seems as though we’re singing from the same hymn sheet in that respect; a self-certified Morrissey disciple myself, I can’t help but respect his honesty. It seems to break the ice, too, but Graham isn’t laying all his cards on the table just yet. Yes, he openly admits that he’s principally inspired by the elements which surround him on a daily basis – “where I live, my mates, that sort of thing” – but that’s as far as it goes. “No one in the band actually knows what the songs are about,” he confesses. I’m shocked, but Graham nods his head in reiteration. “I mean, I run things by them, and they tell me if my lyrics sound shite or not, but that’s it.”
It’s intriguing, if nothing else, because The Twilight Sad are now a band two records deep; their debut album, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, was released in 2007, and, in October this year, was finally followed up with the “noisier and bigger” Forget the Night Ahead. You might wonder how an ensemble – of which three-quarters remain clueless about the true meaning behind their lyrical content – have managed to progress, but the four-piece have proved it possible all the same. “Those songs were the first songs we ever wrote together as a band,” Graham says in reference to the band’s first full-length record. “The songs [on the new record] are more melodic; well, more melodic in terms of the vocals, anyway.”
The thing is, James Graham may be secretive, but he is also remarkably down-to-earth. The fact that The Twilight Sad are six years into their career and still playing small-scale venues such as The Freebutt is inescapable, but it doesn’t seem to bother Graham in the slightest. “I’ve never wanted to be a stadium band,” he says. “I’ve never seen us as, or aspired to be, a festival headliner. I’d rather we headlined a tent at a festival and 500 people who really want to see us showed up, rather than play the main stage and 50,000 people came to see us just so they can say they’ve seen us.”
As the interview draws to a close, James Graham makes a last-minute confession: “There’s a limiter in this place, so we can’t play as loud as we like tonight.” He looks only slightly put out, so when said limiter brings the band’s set to a premature halt, I’m surprised to realise our conversation has come full circle. “Next time we play Brighton, we’ll play a venue with decent sound,” Graham pledges, and I can only hope that is a promise – because The Twilight Sad, when not blighted by technical difficulties, offered something so good, it would be a shame for their live performance to be defined by one shortcoming.